Small Talk

Table for four

Jean Gillette is taking an early spring break. This week is a vintage column from 1997.

Haven’t we all read about the timeless joys and emotional gratification of the family dinner?
Whatever else you do, the experts repeat, make sure that your entire family sits down together several nights a week to eat, discuss their day and share their world with you.

Maybe it was easy for the Brady Bunch.

It has never been easy for me. It was hard enough to make myself eat with my children.

I love them and enjoy them, but it seems to me that we chat from the time I pick them up from school until I tuck them in at night.
Dinner was my oasis. When they were younger, I got into the self-indulgent habit of feeding them first, putting them to bed and then rewarding myself with a quiet meal, eaten without interruption.

Very Victorian I suppose, but minus the nanny.

Now I’m not only supposed to sit down and have a meaningful conversation, I’m supposed to cook one meal that we all can, or will, eat.
I am scouring cookbooks for ideas, but so far my children’s menu still excludes most meat, all vegetables, salad, rice and the majority of potato recipes. I’ve learned to make burritos five ways.

Sometimes it all happens. Four place settings, one entrée, everyone at the table. Why did I think that the conversation would just fall into place? We have debates, all right. We debate whether or not they were truly chewing with their mouths And there is much disagreement on appropriate dinner table conversation.

This week, I asked my husband to pass the blue cheese dressing. My son immediately demanded to know what the heck blue cheese was. My husband explained it was cheese filled with veins of blue mold.
“Daaad!” my daughter howled. “That’s not funny! That’s gross.” My son followed closely with “Oh sure, Dad. What is it really?”

My husband responded calmly that he was not kidding, that many cheeses get their flavor from various molds allowed to grow on or in them. My daughter, with the weak stomach, began loud requests for him to stop talking about stuff like that. She was getting ill.

My son pressed for details, wanting to know exactly what a mold is, where it comes from and why isn’t it poison? “Doesn’t bread get moldy and don’t we throw it away when it’s all blue and hairy?” he asked. This led to further discussion of good molds, bad molds and penicillin, and louder shrieks from my daughter for them to stop.

As my husband tried delicately to finish his scientific explanation, I gave up on the possibility of pointing out that my son should stop eating his mashed potatoes with his fingers.

Life was so much simper when we dined each night with the Flintstones. Even Fred never chewed with his mouth open, and everybody loved brontosaurus burgers.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer in favor of the children’s table. Contact her at